511 travel service expands statewide in Florida

Florida travelers can now access real-time traffic and weather information by dialing a voice-enabled 511 system on their telephones.

The state’s Transportation Department launched the system last Thursday in most areas except southeast Florida, which will be online Dec. 2.

By dialing 511 from their landline or wireless phones, travelers can get free traffic incident reports, such as road closures and weather-related information on all state roads and highways identified by the department, said Fred Korangy, chief executive officer and president of LogicTree, a College Park, Md.-based company that provides the voice-enabled technology for the system.

Since 2002, the Tampa Bay region has had a voice-enabled 511 system developed by another company. Korangy said that system is not as advanced, but it is seamlessly integrated with LogicTree’s system. The central and southeastern parts of Florida also had 511 systems, but they were not voice-enabled.

When LogicTree’s system went live Nov. 17, about 14,000 people called it in a 24-hour period, he said.

Korangy said the company has developed a next-generation multimodal gateway by using Voice Extensible Markup Language. It can retrieve information from any database and translate that information into a natural-sounding voice. The system can also send text via Short Message Service to handsets, but due to budget restraints, Florida is not offering that benefit at this time, he said.

Next year, the state will begin offering a personalized service called My511. Through a Web site, travelers register their information, including a phone number, and provide specific routes in which they are interested. The system will then send voice messages about the routes to the traveler daily.

A future option LogicTree could provide is emergency notification and messaging, Korangy said. He said the system could allow state officials to send voice or text messages to residents statewide or in specific areas regarding emergencies, such as hurricanes, and provide evacuation information. The system can even detect if someone has listened to an alert or if an answering machine picked up the message, he added.

Korangy said several states have expressed interest in that service.

Petitioned by the federal Transportation Department, the Federal Communications Commission assigned 511 as the three-digit dialing code for traveler information on July 21, 2000, a move that many state, regional and metropolitan transportation departments and transit agencies support.

In essence, the system makes travel information more consistent nationwide because in the past decade, more than 300 agency-operated traveler information phone systems have been established.

LogicTree will provide a 511 system in New Jersey, which will go live in January 2006. The company has also provided the technology for statewide systems in Virginia and North Carolina and a citywide system for St. Louis.

Since Virginia officials began offering the 511 service in February, 800,000 calls have been made to the system, Korangy said. He added that Virginia offers a range of business services that allows travelers to find, for example, the nearest gas station or restaurant from their locations. St. Louis has been offering 511 service since November 2003, and North Carolina’s service began in August 2004.

The systems have been established statewide in 21 states and several regions, including Cincinnati and the Sacramento, San Francisco Bay and Northern California areas, according to statistics on the 511 Deployment Coalition's Web site. Currently, 83 million U.S. residents – or 28 percent of the population – have access to 511. Since its inception, more than 40 million calls have been made nationwide to 511 systems, according to the coalition.

Most other states are deploying or planning 511 systems.

The coalition was established by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, in partnership with the American Public Transportation Association, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America, and other organizations with support from the federal Transportation Department.


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